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Embark on a spontaneous surf adventure—and film it, too

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Sometimes the best adventures are the ones we don't plan—at least, this is what we learn from surfers Jen Smith, Mele Saili, and Jenna Balester in “Holes in the Map,” a new short film about a road trip that stretched up the West Coast from San Diego to a tiny island off the coast of Canada. Overflowing with fun waves and breathtaking scenery, “Holes in the Map” captures a spontaneous journey into the unknown.

Hiding behind the lens is New York-to-Cali transplant Hayley Gordon, an Encinitas-based filmmaker who inspires us to throw caution to the wind and set off on unexpected undertakings with our best friend riding shotgun.

GrindTV caught up with Gordon to learn more about her recent exploits.

Filmmaker Hayley Gordon, on location for 'Holes in the Map'; image contributed by Hayley Gordon
Filmmaker Hayley Gordon on location for “Holes in the Map”; image courtesy of Gordon

Tell us about the surf trip that is featured in ‘Holes in the Map.’ Where did you go and what happened along the way?

This was one of the coolest trips I’ve ever been on. We took an RV up the coast from San Diego all the way to Tofino in British Columbia, Canada. The main goal was to get to Tofino for the Queen of The Peak surf competition. I didn’t include much of the contest in the video because it would have made everything too long, but the girls placed very well; Jen Smith got first in longboard and Jenna Balester snagged second in shortboard. I hadn’t seen the West Coast past San Francisco, so it was entirely new to me. I also had never been to Oregon, and had only seen small parts of Washington and British Columbia. We snaked our way up the coast without much of a plan at all. We were scrapping for places to park the RV at night, and got kicked out of several parks and parking lots. We would surf one spot, start driving, and then start researching to find the next surf spot. We got blessed with amazing conditions on the drive up—sunny and glassy, fun-size surf. That coast can be super fickle, so we definitely got lucky. We made multiple stops to jump in random rivers, chase bears, and pick up hitchhikers. There were so many cool little things that happened that it’s hard to even list them all.

Holes in the Map
A road trip from San Diego to Tofino, British Columbia, is the setting of “Holes in the Map.” Image by Gordon

What is one memory that really stands out from this trip?

One of the best memories I have is rolling into Pacific City, Oregon, in the middle of the night. Since we got there in the dark, I had no idea what the area looked like, so it was like waking up in this entirely new place. It was a bit surreal. Jenna and I walked out of the RV to get coffee before the others woke up, and there were all these black bunny rabbits hopping around. I felt like I had fallen into “Alice in Wonderland.” We fed them carrots for a while—it was hysterical.

Jenna, feeding the black rabbits in ; image by Hayley Gordon.
Jenna Balester feeding the wild black rabbits in Pacific City, Oregon; image by Gordon

When we eventually walked down to the beach I saw what looked like a huge rock floating in the air above the ocean. Turns out it’s a mountain formation offshore, but the base was shrouded in fog that blended into the sky. It was one of those moments where your brain short circuits because it doesn’t know what it’s looking at. It actually startled me for a second. We ended up getting amazing surf that day and it was actually the only time I surfed on the trip. It was a very strange but awesome day. Another great memory is watching a black bear catch a salmon swimming upstream at the hatchery in Tofino. We were about 20 feet from the bear, but he didn’t care about us at all.

The girls couldn't believe their eyes when they first saw this floating rock; image by Hayley Gordon
The girls couldn’t believe their eyes when they first saw this floating rock. Image by Gordon

What creative process do you follow when making a surf video? Do you start with a concept, or just let things happen along the way?

Generally speaking the biggest starting point with me is finding a song that gets me amped up. At that point I’ll start developing ideas in my head of how I want the video to look and feel. However, it can really depend on what footage I actually get because I tend to let things unfold naturally. For instance, with the road trip I had no idea what was going to happen, or how the feel of the trip was going to be. I tend to just run around with my camera and film stuff as it happens. I think that a lot of people identify with the videos I’ve been making because of this. I had an email from someone who was inspired by the videos to return to her surfing/skating roots, and that made me so happy. I guess I don’t try to display a false image that has been too commercialized—the films are just of my friends having fun, and a lot of it is candid. I think people like that aspect. So no, I'm not too big on the concepts yet. I usually just let things happen. But I have some ideas of concept videos that I might want to try out in the future.

Surfer/artist Mele Saili checks the waves; image by Hayley Gordon.
Hayley Gordon finds inspiration in her friends, such as surfer/artist Mele Saili. Image by Gordon

Your Leashless TV videos spotlight a vibrant community of women surfers. Why do you think it’s important that these talented female surfers are seen and heard?

When I started filming two years ago I noticed (and still notice) that there’s a barrage of new material out there on the Internet—videos upon videos. But despite how easy it is to make good videos these days thanks to new technology, there is still a huge lack of quality coverage of the girls. I know they can rip, and I’m wondering why there isn’t as much coverage. It’s fun to watch the guys, but as a female surfer, I want to see what the girls are up to! So I think it’s definitely important to show who’s out there and the talent that everyone is missing out on seeing.

Jenna Balesteri and Mele, keeping it in perspective; image by Hayley Gordon
Surfers Jenna Balester and Mele Saili, seen through the lens of filmmaker Hayley Gordon; image by Hayley Gordon

What advice do you have for aspiring female action sports filmmakers and photographers?

I would say that you should make films for yourself first. Just make something you would like to see. That’s what will produce your best work. Don’t aim to please a certain audience or try too hard to emulate someone else. I think that’s the best advice I can give. There’s definitely a huge niche out there just begging to be covered, and I think girls have a slight advantage covering other girls, just because of the camaraderie we have with each other.